What is Kegel?
Your pelvic floor muscles hang like a sling between your hips to support your bladder, uterus, other organs, and the baby when it is still in the womb. They are very strong muscles. They also control the flow of urine and the contraction of the vagina and anal sphincter.
When a woman is pregnant, the baby’s weight puts pressure on the bladder and on the pelvic floor muscles, weakening them. The birth process stretches these muscles even more to allow the baby out. Sometimes the muscle tears during the birth process. Therefore pregnancy and birthing weaken and even damage these muscles. It is this weakening which causes urine incontinence during pregnancy and after giving birth. With tearing may come even fecal incontinence.
Armed with this knowledge, you want to keep your pelvic muscles strong during and after pregnancy. They play an important role in delivery and they keep your urine from leaking when you cough or laugh.
The Kegel exercise is the one known solution for keeping your pelvic floor muscles strong. With strong muscles your labor is smoother and you have little or no problems after birth. If you do only one exercise during pregnancy, make it this one. It is the key to preventing urine incontinence during and after pregnancy.
About the Kegel Exercise
The goal of the Kegel exercise is to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles so they can control the bladder and vagina. You do that by contracting the pelvic floor muscles for short periods of time, completing several short sets a few times a day. The exercise is easy, fast and free. Once you know how to do it you can do it just about anywhere, even when you are working.
The Benefits of Kegels
Research has shown that women who perform the Kegel exercise:
- During pregnancy generally have shorter labor than other women.
- During and after pregnancy decrease the odds of complications.
- Boost their sex drive and reach orgasm more.
How to Find the Pelvic Floor Muscles
In order to identify your pelvic floor muscles, go to the bathroom with a very full bladder. Urinate then stop mid-stream. Urinate again and stop. Then just urinate to finish. The muscles that you tighten to stop the urine are the ones that you contract when you do the Kegel exercise. Once you find the muscles, don’t repeatedly engage those muscles while urinating otherwise you develop urinary incontinence, urinary tract infections and other problems.
Here is how to test if you found the right muscles. Insert a clean finger in your vagina then squeeze your muscles. If you are doing the exercise correctly the vagina should contract around your finger. Your thighs, stomach and butt muscles should not move at all.
If you still don’t get it, ask your healthcare practitioner to coach you the next time you go for your check up.
The Kegel Exercise Routine
Week 1: Tighten the muscles for about five seconds, and then relax for five seconds. Repeat four or five times in a row, three times a day.
Week 2: Increase to 10 contractions, hold each contraction for 5 seconds at a time, 3 times a day.
Week 3: increase to 15 contractions 3 times per day. Try holding each contraction for 10 seconds.
Week 4: Increase to 20 contractions 3 times per day, holding each contraction for 10 seconds.
Like any other muscles, they get stronger with use. So keep at it. Be patient. Do not rush to do 20 contractions on day one. Gradual increase is safer.
When to Start the Kegel Exercise
It’s never too early to start doing the Kegel exercise. It is better to start earlier and practice throughout pregnancy. Then you benefit more.
Restart your exercise soon after delivering the baby. Create a routine and do it at the same time, say while you feed your baby. The exercise will stimulate circulation, promote healing and improve muscle tone. Don’t worry if you can’t feel your muscles at first. The perineum will be numb after birth, but feeling will return gradually over a few weeks.
Continue doing your Kegel exercise for a few months after birth to help your muscles get back in shape. Consider doing it almost every day of your life to maintain pelvic floor health.
How to Make the Kegel Exercise Fun
How about mixing exercise with pleasure? Perform your Kegel exercise during sex. It doubles the pleasure for you and your partner. Your partner will start asking you to squeeze whenever you have sex. That is how pleasurable the exercise is for him.
If you keep forgetting to do your exercise, download a Smartphone app. The apps send you daily reminders, tracks your exercises and some even provide musical routines for your pelvic floor workouts.
Vaginal exercisers are devices that claim to help you isolate the pelvic floor muscles or to exercise them for you. Some of them provide electrical stimulation to the muscles. They might be fun to try but be aware that there is no scientific evidence that they work better than contracting the muscles on your own. In fact, some studies have found them to be less effective.
If you use any device, make sure it is clean as it may introduce bacteria into the vagina. In fact it may be wise to avoid devices during pregnancy or when you are recovering from childbirth. Check with your doctor first before trying one for the first time.
For even more Kegel exercise tips, visit our Exercise Zone.
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Many People Think These Exercises Are Just For Women, But Men Can Greatly Benefit From Kegels Too.
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